116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa Democrats are proposing sweeping changes to their caucuses, essentially turning the complicated system into a simple straw poll, in an attempt to preserve their status as one of the first states to express their choice for the next U.S. president.
The Iowa Democratic Party on Thursday afternoon formally submitted to the national party an application to be one of the early-voting states to the national party’s rules and bylaws committee.
The national party’s rules and bylaws committee is expected to meet later this month to review states’ applications.
The Iowa caucuses — both Democrat and Republican — have kicked off the country’s presidential nominating process every four years for the past four decades.
But in recent years, national Democrats have expressed concern with the caucus system, which requires in-person attendance, and with a lack of diversity in the state, which makes it, in critics’ eyes, unfit to serve as the influential first state in the process of picking a president.
The heat on Iowa Democrats intensified after the 2020 caucuses, when a computer program designed to tabulate caucus results failed on caucus night. As a result, official results weren’t reported for several weeks.
The Democratic National Committee earlier this year decided to overhaul its presidential primary calendar. The national party is throwing out the current order of early-voting states and requiring any state that wants to be an early-voting state in the future to submit an application.
Twenty states intend to submit applications, according to national reports.
Iowa Democrats last month notified the national party of their intention to apply to remain an early-voting state.
“This proposal allows us to grow the Iowa Democratic Party and keep our position on the nominating calendar,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn said in a statement. “By expanding our caucus process to include a window of non-present participation, we will be able to engage with more Iowans than ever before and showcase the strength of the Iowa Democratic Party’s grassroots infrastructure.”
To make their caucuses more accessible — a requirement established by the national party — Iowa Democrats are proposing to eliminate the requirement for in-person attendance and the reorganizing of candidates’ supporters over multiple rounds.
What’s left would be similar to Iowa’s Republican caucuses, which are a simple straw poll, with each participant submitting one presidential candidate’s name and the party counting those submissions.
“Developing a non-present participation process that is easy to understand and accessible is a critical improvement we must make to live up our Democratic Party values,” Scott Brennan, the Iowa Democratic Party’s member on the national party’s rules and bylaws committee.
“By making our Iowa Democratic Caucus process more straightforward, we also create an opportunity for more Iowans to get involved and help us do the important work of electing more Democrats.”
The Iowa Republican caucuses once again will be first-in-the-nation in 2024, national Republican leaders recently announced.
No attendance required
According to the application submitted by the state party, the Iowa caucuses would allow Democrats to cast a presidential preference without attending the caucuses.
Under the current system, participants are required to attend the caucuses at a prescribed time and remain in attendance throughout the process, with limited exceptions. Critics of the caucus system say this requirement makes it difficult for some people to attend, and thus excludes them from the process.
Under the proposed changes, Democrats would participate by completing a preference card before caucus night. Participants would request a card, which would be mailed to them two to four weeks before caucus night. The participant would state their presidential preference on the card and return it via the mail, before caucus night.
No multiple rounds
To streamline the process of quantifying support, Iowa Democrats also are proposing an end to the current system’s process of reorganizing candidates’ supporters over multiple rounds.
Under the current system, candidates are required to reach a prescribed level of support. If a candidate fails to reach that level, that candidate’s supporters can shift to another candidate in a second round.
Under the proposed changes, there would be no multi-round process, and only the participant’s initial choice for president would be counted.
The proposed changes in effect detach Democrats’ presidential preference statements from the party’s delegate election process.
So under the proposal, on caucus night party officials would announce the presidential preference results, and the remainder of the caucus would be dedicated to party business.
Iowa Democrats also are proposing to contract with national party-approved election vendors or state or local elections officials to run the new process to ensure it is fair and trustworthy.
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